Sex and Scripture: Christians extend exploration of faith into bedroom
There may be some churchgoers who fit the stereotype of a repressed prude who can only shuffle awkwardly and stare at his or her shoes when the topic of sex arises.
But the Rev. David Reid is not one of those people.
"I taught the whole Song of Solomon a year and a half ago," says Reid, lead pastor of Peachtree Community Church near Atlanta.
Yes, he's talking about the book of the Bible. Reid describes it as "this incredibly erotic, joyful book that's about sex in marriage."
"People were like, 'I've never heard a church even reference that book,' " he says.
Reid has also co-authored the book "Leading to the Bedroom" with his wife, Katie. The Reids' intent is to put forward biblical principles for sexual fulfillment between a husband and wife.
While some people might brand Reid as a bit of a Christian rebel, his attitude is part of a trend among Christians that is moving toward more openness about the topic of sex.
A 2008 ABC News article stated that "more evangelical couples ... are now leaving their Christian inhibitions at the bedroom door."
There is also a maybe surprising range of books on the topic of sex from a Christian perspective: "A Celebration of Sex," "The Act of Marriage," "Sacred Sex," "Intimate Issues: Twenty-One Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex," and more.
The evangelical juggernaut Focus on the Family has a "sex and intimacy" page on its website - www.focusonthefamily.com - with topics like "God's design for sex" and "understanding your husband's sexual needs."
And there's even an organization called Sexual Wholeness Inc., whose "goal is to encourage others to join us in seeking and promoting Biblical intimacy and sexual wholeness."
Matthew St. John, teaching pastor at Bethel Church in Fargo, has been speaking in a Bible doctrine class at Park Christian School about differing worldviews on sexuality and plans to teach a sermon series next year titled "Crazy Sex."
As he sees it, the church has allowed "an antiquated politeness" to hinder its discussion of sex. He also believes some churchgoers avoid the issue because of the guilt they feel about their own sexual behavior.
But St. John thinks the church is overcoming that hesitancy, and he describes emerging generations as "utterly authentic and raw," adding that he finds it refreshing.
Younger generations are willing to ask hard questions, he says, and the church needs to answer and not be "passive prudes."
In the book he wrote with his wife, Reid offers frank discussion on sexuality. It's a work that comes from the Reids' own personal experience.
During a two-week spiritual retreat to Israel about three years ago, Reid recalls setting aside an entire day to be "alone with God." He labored in prayer about issues related to the Southern Baptist church of about 300 that he and his wife started and where he is lead pastor.
After praying for some time, "I got quiet, and it was almost like God said, 'OK, now that you're done, I've got some things I want to say to you.' "
Among other things, Reid felt that God was speaking to him about his sexual relationship with his wife. The message Reid heard was that he hadn't been the kind of leader that he should have been in the area of "intimacy." It led him to a study of the Old Testament book Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs).
"I knew it was about the area of intimacy, and just from reading that over the next several days, I ended up writing my wife about 16 pages of a personal letter," he says.
When Reid returned from his retreat, he and his wife began examining their sexual relationship. They had conversations "we never had in 13 years," he says.
The results were noticeable.
"You know, it spills over into every area of your marriage," Reid says. "I mean, you're just warmer toward each other. You're more on the same team."
They distilled the process they went through into a series of steps designed to lead couples to greater intimacy.
That process, which forms the backbone of the Reids' book, includes openly talking about sexual relationships. Reid references the biblical Song of Solomon in which he says the characters "talk to each other, and they definitely don't hide anything from each other."
Linked to Scripture
For both Reid and St. John, the topic of sexuality is richly linked to the Scriptures and to God's plan for marriage. St. John says it "permeates" the Scriptures.
"The bottom line is God has crafted for a man and a woman in the covenant context of marriage to enjoy sexual intimacy," St. John says.
And he bemoans what he sees as a casual sex mentality in contemporary culture.
"You're taking something very deep of yourself and just throwing it out there to the wind," he says.
He says culture treats people much like a paper plate at a picnic. The food is devoured, and the dirty plate simply disposed of.
"And that's the way our world thinks about sex" and the way it treats both women and men, he says.
God, on the other hand, treats humans like a piece of fine china.
"You don't chuck china," St. John says.
St. John finds himself frustrated with the manner in which many men conduct themselves sexually.
"A lot of men act like boys in men's bodies, and they need to grow up and be men," he says.
But as he laments much of what he sees in the culture around him, St. John points to the life of Christ for guidance on what a man should be, referencing the New Testament book of Ephesians where the Apostle Paul instructs husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the church."
"He served and nurtured" instead of just taking and hoarding, St. John says. "He treats the church with dignity."
And it would appear that the topic of sexuality isn't without an audience in the church.
That's evidenced by the fact that the "sexual intimacy in Christian marriages" section of www.christianbook.com contains more than three dozen volumes. That lines up with what Reid has seen as well.
"I find that if a pastor can talk about sex in a respectful way, but in a frank way, that people are just hungry to know God's view on it," he says. "There are still a lot of places that it's ... totally taboo, but I think people are very hungry to hear the church teach authoritatively about it."